You Need Contrast to Grow as a Leader
Contrast cultivates empathy in us as leaders. Everyone has a role to play. If you’re only around people like yourself, you won’t grow.
Which side of the image above is more engaging?
Proximity associates elements, bringing them together. It helps you see the parts as a whole.
Contrast distinguishes elements, separating them from one another. It helps you see each part among the whole.
Let’s explore two ways contrast impacts our design as leaders:
- Contrast helps us stand out as a leader: leveraging our unique gifts and skills.
- Contrast helps us grow as a leader: being reshaped by a diversity of voices around us.
When we have a diversity of people around us, together we see through a multifaceted lens, with a much vibrant view of the world around us.
Contrast to Stand Out
An image without contrast is uninteresting. It doesn't draw or hold your attention.
Early in my leadership journey, many of the leadership books I read would be organized around a list of leadership qualities. And while this can be helpful as an overview, it seemed to indicate I needed to embody each of these qualities in the way the book described them to be a real leader.
Don't believe the myth that you must conform to a specific personality to be a leader.
I looked around for examples of leaders who I could learn from.
It seemed there was a specific profile that I would be expected to meet if I was to become a leader. It was something like the decisive, strategic, commanding general.
Over time I’ve discovered that while a leader can undoubtedly embody these qualities, there is much more diversity and depth to leadership. Don't believe the myth that you must conform to a specific personality to be a leader.
A my leadership journey continued, Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender was an exceptionally great resource. It provided a picture of what it looks like to lead not only out of strength but out of weakness.
Not having to be good at everything and know all the answers in order to be a leader was a great relief. It provided space for me to grow as a leader and become the kind of leader that was uniquely me, shaped by my personal story and experiences.
If you’re only around people like yourself, you won’t grow.
Assessments like StrengthsFinder, Myers Briggs, Predictive Index, and the Enneagram can help us understand our design as leaders. They can help us identify areas of strength or weakness. They also provide schemas for us to make sense of why we make the decisions we make or why we respond the way we do.
I encourage you to take advantage of tools like these to learn about yourself. Reflect on what you discover, compare it with your experience, and ask for feedback from those around you.
Contrast cultivates empathy in us as leaders
I recommend you go through these tools with others, like your team. Not only does it builds trust and empathy within the team, but it also helps you, as the leader, see the potential in your team as individuals and as a whole.
As team members share more vulnerably with each other it builds trust and empowers mutual understanding. These are essential qualities to a high performing team.
It is common for individuals to not like their results at first, wishing they had the strengths or personality of others on the team. But this is also a perfect moment for them to see how they contrast and compliment others on the team.
Each person has a role to play and significant contributions to make.
In football, everyone wants to be the quarterback. But if you put eleven quarterbacks on the field in a game, it’s going to be hard to block and hard to win games.
Each person has a role to play and significant contributions to make. The more they, and others around them, recognize this, the healthier and more effective the team will be.
Leaning into these areas of your design will help you grow as the leader you uniquely are. You can leverage your specific strengths, bringing those to your team. You can also be more comfortable with your weaknesses, learning habits to mitigate them.
You’ll even begin to see the unique designs of those on your teams. You can help them grow, and together as a team, you’ll become much more than a sum of your individual abilities.
You also need contrast in the perspectives and ideas for a community to be effective.
Contrast to grow as a leader
“It’s lonely at the top.” It’s a common sentiment you hear from leaders. We’ve already seen how having proximity to others is crucial for long-term viability as a leader. You also need contrast in the perspectives and ideas for a community to be effective.
If you’re only around people like yourself, you won’t grow. When we have people with the same backgrounds, interests, world-views, educations… we only see through one lens. This amplifies our blind spots and leaves our assumptions unchallenged.
We are more susceptible to becoming lopsided leaders.
Why is this problem so common?
It’s natural to want to be around people like yourself, mainly because it’s easy. If everyone around me does the same thing on the weekends, eats at the same restaurants, and chooses the same family activities as me, I can label all of those as “normal,” and there is little friction in my life.
Together as a team, you’ll become much more than a sum of your individual abilities.
But when I invite a community that contrasts me, suddenly nobody is normal. It becomes a bit more complex to navigate life, but life becomes much richer.
When we have a diversity of people around us, together we see through a multifaceted lens, with a much vibrant view of the world around us. Contrast cultivates empathy in us as leaders, growing the ability to recognize the complexity of other peoples’ experiences.
Over time we learn to see differently. It becomes more natural to put ourselves in each other’s shoes, understanding each other’s experiences.
This empathy makes us better leaders and better people. And our teams make better decisions when they possess a contrast of perspectives, skills, experience, and background.
Wondering how to identify your priorities? Try my 5 day priorities challenge on everyday.design where I explore how to design think your everyday life.
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